Unlocking Nigeria’s potential
According to a newly released report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) titled Unlocking Nigeria’s Potential: The Path to Well-Being; ‘Improving Nigeria’s infrastructure through prioritized investments will help to secure its long term success as Africa’s largest economy.’ CNBC Africa’s
Wole Famurewa spoke to Hans-Paul Bürkner, the Global Chairman of BCG on the launch of their new office in Lagos and the role of the company in Nigeria’s economy.
FAMUREWA: You have been doing business in Nigeria for several years and now that you have opened an office here, talk about the opportunities you see in Nigeria for BCG.
BÜRKNER: Clearly, Nigeria has enormous potential, it is the largest economy, the largest population in Africa, and it is a very viable place despite the current challenges. The population is enormously entrepreneurial and active. It seems that every Nigerian has two or three jobs plus two or three ventures on the side. Our key to opening the office is to find people who are willing to do the job and who can take the business forward. Ultimately, we see this as a five to ten year journey to build the office, a very strong Nigerian team and to have Nigerian partners. BCG is a partnership and for us, the objective really is to have local partners running a local team and catering to the needs of clients in West Africa.
FAMUREWA: Should we read into your report- ‘Unlocking Nigeria’s potential, the path to well-being’ that you are really looking to work with the public sector as you make your full entry to Nigeria. Is that a great opportunity that you are seeing?
BÜRKNER: We focus on private sector, enterprises, domestic and foreign but we also work with the public sector around the world. The report is a good opportunity to explain our thoughts on what the country needs to do going forward, it’s good to have a new administration who wants to really move Nigeria to a new level, so I think the report is a timely one.
FAMUREWA: Let’s talk about some things in the report, it is broken down in terms of solutions and presently Nigeria is facing many challenges. You have highlighted infrastructure as a problem, what are your thoughts about the best way to deal with that?
BÜRKNER: The key areas are about physical infrastructure, it is also about human capital, institutional capital and the rule of law. These are the key pillars of economic development in any Country and when you look at Countries who have done well, they really have made progress along these lines. Infrastructure is a big issue, not just in Nigeria but everywhere in Africa, Latin America and most parts of Asia. The key would be not to just have huge plans and projects, but really seeing what you can do step by step. In improving power supply, we need more and bigger power plants, transmission lines, power distribution and we need to look at the whole supply chain to really get a lot more out of the existing system that would be the top priority for the next two to three years and with reasonably modest amount of money, a lot of effort and very persistent execution, we could improve the power situation significantly and within a few years. A lot of policies have to be changed; there is a lot of opportunity and the need to remove the obstacles, waste and leakages. Look at the whole supply chain, and the thing that requires bringing government entities and the private sector together to really make sure that we use the existing system to create a lot more power and get more power to the people.
FAMUREWA: What’s your sense of doing things differently because some of the points you just raised have been done for a while, we’ve had the policy, public and private sector participation and few years ago we had the privatisation of the sector and then we are still not seeing the gains, do you think there is a need for a very significant holistic rethink about the process?
BÜRKNER: The issue is that we have a lot of stakeholders and everybody tries to optimise his or her own stake and we need to emphasize looking at the whole supply chain making sure that it becomes a win-win. I think there is also some scepticism of the government towards the private sector and we need to overcome that. It has to be a win-win for both the government and the private sector. One of the key elements will be to bring people together, the same is true with the traffic, the ports, the roads and railroads; there are lots of obstacles and we need to make sure that we use the existing infrastructure better and of course adding additional infrastructure. It is a two-step process but the key is not just to have big plans but to focus on execution. Let’s get things done.
FAMUREWA: Let’s now talk about policy making, to a large extent; it starts with law making, the rules of the game, making this a good place to do business. Many of those points were made in this report, the successes in places like Rwanda; Nigeria needs to move in that direction, can you just speak to that point.
BÜRKNER: How are we removing obstacles? If our rules and regulations prevent Nigerians from doing their job, if we have many points of interactions between the government and private sector that make it almost impossible to establish something, I think we are in a big problem and we need to remove all those points. in many countries, if you have too many rules, you are likely to suffocate everybody especially in small and medium sized companies, the big companies can deal with that but we need to foster the small and medium sized enterprises and it’s about removing all these bureaucratic obstacles and not just changing the laws, it is about how we operate and making sure that there is a lot more opportunity for companies to operate.
FAMUREWA: Let’s talk about education, there is a lot that needs to be done, the curriculum needs to be reworked, the teachers need to be motivated and in all of this, education continues to get a huge part of our budget, we are spending but it seems like it’s not working, so how do we fix education in your view?
BÜRKNER: This is an issue all around the world; BCG is working with some states in India on this, in China, Singapore, Latin America and North America on education. The key is to get good teachers, to train those teachers well, to motivate them and to ensure that they are adequately compensated and that we attract really good people becoming teachers not the ones who are necessarily seeing this as an option. Making sure that they get constant training, bringing good curriculums, good tests to all the schools around the Country even in the remote parts, combining good training for teachers with online capabilities so we can continuously enhance the quality and also the consistency and persistence of teachers to make sure they really conform to the curriculum all around the Country. It is a key element and there are no quick fixes, this will take five to ten years but you can achieve a lot, we have seen it in many countries where they put a lot of emphasis on quality of schools, teachers, training, curriculum and also testing students continuously to ensure that we know where it is working and not. Also, to help those schools and teachers who have challenges and remove teachers who do not do a good job.
FAMUREWA: Based on your experience, in terms of moving a country in the right direction, what are the lessons in terms of where we have seen successes across the world?
BÜRKNER: Human capital, physical capital, institutions are very important. Starting with Institutions, the elite both political and economic really feel responsible for the country, that they also put their efforts into this and that the government institutions really focus on getting things done. Here in Nigeria, you have people who want to do a good job and you also have people who are not doing that and so one of the key lessons from around the world is that you need to make sure that you fill the government institutions with good people and that you remove those who are not. It is important to be very persistent and ensure that the government employees are well paid and they are entirely focused on this job without feeling that they need other sources of income and with that, many other things will get done. You will get things built and finished as well. At the same time, you need to make sure that the people are well trained and are provided with good healthcare especially the young ones, they need to be well fed and taken care of, We must ensure that the basis is there and we also need to accept that this will not happen in a few years, this is an issue of a decade. As I said earlier, a lot can be done with the issue of power, some of the infrastructure, starting with schools, not necessarily across the country but have pilots in two to three states to show that it works and then roll out things, so that the government can demonstrate successes in a few years’ time.
FAMUREWA: We certainly look forward to some progress and hopefully the BCG can help Nigeria move forward.
BÜRKNER: We are eager to do that and very committed to make it work.
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